Thursday, July 24, 2014

Book Reviews–July 23, 2014

It’s the middle of the day, so I have some time to review books. Since my last book reviews, I feel like I’ve started, but not finished a lot of books. There have just been a number of books that I couldn’t get interested in within 100 or so pages, so I stopped. I think that’s why I rate all the books I finish with As or Bs. If it was just a C or lower, I likely stopped before I got to the end.

Dallas, 1963 by Bill Minutaglio. (audio) This is another book about the Kennedy assassination, but this one focuses on the atmosphere in Dallas before the assassination. Many players are introduced and their motives exposed. The inner workings of the upper echelon of Dallas society are exposed and the rift between Dallas and the Kennedy administration are explored. It’s a fascinating book. A

The Spellmans Reunited by Lisa Lutz. I LOVE the Spellmans series of books. This family of private detectives is wonderfully dysfunctional, but in a loving way (if that’s possible). The reader, as usual, is dropped into the story in the middle of an impossible situation. As things play out, though, things work out. This book is a bit more serious with characters with significant illnesses and facing mortality. Actually, that’s one of it’s strengths. It’s also the last of the Spellman books, which makes me sad. It’s definitely worth a read. A+

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. The main character in this complex novel is a woman who is raised in 18th and 19th century Pennsylvania by her botanist parents. She becomes a botanist in her own right, specifically, a bryologist. However, she stays in the Northeastern US until her 40s, when she travels after a love affair. In the long run, she visits Tahiti and ends up living in the Netherlands and doing some significant writing and thinking. I loved this author’s writing style; the characters were deep and real; the plot was twisting and full of interest. Overall, a great book. A+

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead. This story of a ballerina in New York who leaves the ballet to marry her high school sweetheart, have a son, and move to the suburbs in California. But there’s so much more. It’s a story about the ballet, love, passion, honesty, and betrayal. And it’s a well-told story. A

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. A young orphaned Irish girl in the last 18th century in Virginia is brought into the house of a prosperous farmer as an indentured servant. She becomes an integral part of the slave society, but has to relearn a great deal when she grows up and becomes part of the well-to-do society. A good story about class, race, and the blurring of the lines even in plantation society. B+

Hidden Girl by Shiyma Hall. This autobiography is about a girl who was born in Egypt but sold into slavery by her parents. Her captors brought her to the US when she was 8 years old, and she was rescued by US social services a couple of years later. The book tells the story from her early life in Egypt to her adulthood in the US. Compelling. A

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta. Yes, I read this because of the HBO series, although I haven’t seen the HBO series. This is the story of a town trying to deal with the aftermath of a global “rapture-like event” in which apparently random people just disappear. The fact that those who disappear were not particularly religious or particularly good makes it different from the “Rapture” of pretrib evangelicalism – and very disorienting to the characters. The plot is basically a year or so in the life of different characters in this town, so it wasn’t a very strong plot with a definite climax. Otherwise, I thought it was a good read. There were lots of significant conflicts and things to think about. A good read. A

JesusLand: a memoir by Julia Scheeres. The author and her brother were raised in a strict Christian home (not particularly Evangelical from what I can tell, probably more Reformed) and were the youngest of a number of children. Actually, Julia was the youngest of the biological children and her brother was her age, but an adopted African-American. Their upbringing was strict and bordering on abusive for Julia and clearly abusive for her brother. When they were in 11th grade, they were both sent to Escuela Caribe, a Christian boarding school for “troubled teens” in the Dominican Republic, where they stayed until they were 18. The story is primarily of their time in this school, which was also emotionally and physically abusive. The memoir is well-written and interesting. A- (Note – There is a documentary out that I’ll be reviewing in an upcoming post called “Kidnapped for Christ” about Escuela Caribe which I found out about a month after I read this book.)

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. The disappearance (and, it turns out, death) of the oldest daughter in a family is the event that starts out this book about the seemingly well-adjusted family in a small city. In fact, the family is anything but stable. Underneath the shiny veneer, each family member has it’s own set of emotions and turmoil that can’t be disclosed or discussed with others. And when Lydia dies, they find out how little they really know about each other. This is an exquisitely written book about family dysfunction that I highly recommend. A+

Ruby: a novel by Cynthia Bond. I just don’t even know where to start in describing this book. The story is wound around Ruby, a black girl from East Texas who could pass for white, who grows up “in a white lady’s house” and then moves to New York as soon as she can only to come back to Texas when her cousin dies. But, her hometown in East Texas has gone on like nothing has changed  while Ruby has been gone. And, when Ruby gets back, she starts the acting crazy just like her mother did. But, is she crazy or is it the gris gris from all those years ago? The story is told in bits and pieces, fits and starts, but it eventually pulls itself together into a coherent whole. It’s about black and white, North and South, mental illness and magic, power and seduction. And it’s worth reading. A

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerwin. (audio) OK, everyone on the planet practically has seen at least part of the HBO series “Orange is the New Black”. I eventually watched part of one episode, but I decided that I really didn’t want to watch such graphic sex, so I gave up on it. But, from the little I watched, I could see it didn’t have that much resemblance to the book I read. This memoir of a young woman who committed a drug crime, got caught, and then had to wait 10 years to serve a 15 month (I think) sentence in a federal detention facility is well-written and very  thoughtful. What stood out to me were the scenes that humanized the women in the federal penal system. It’s so easy to think of them just “getting what they deserve” (and often they are), but they are also people who are trying to live life however they can behind bars. I was also very impressed by her observations about the effectiveness of our justice system. Many of those behind bars are apparently there because of minimum sentencing laws when more thoughtful sentencing might produce more restorative justice. In any case, it’s a good book that I highly recommend. A+

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout (audio) I had no idea what to expect from this book, but I found it worth listening to. This is a story about two brothers and a sister and the sister’s son. The sister’s son gets into some trouble when he throws a pig’s head into a local mosque which is complicated by the fact that the Muslims in town are almost all refugees from Somalia which makes the townspeople very nervous anyway. The brothers, both lawyers, come from New York, back to their hometown in Maine to help. From there, things get more complicated and all the family dysfunction starts to show.  By the end, things may not be rosy, but wounds are starting to heal. A

So, what have you been reading or listening to recently?


mercygraceword said...

Thanks for this, now I remember where I heard about some of the books I put on hold at the library.
Just one correction; the Elizabeth Gilbert book seems to be called The Signature of all Things.
Looking forward to "listening" to some of these.

Deborah in Canada

Catherine said...

Oh, my! You are correct about the title of that book. I'll correct it now!